Living the highlife

California Journal Another cultural tipping point? Cannabis ads appear in TSA checkpoint trays at Ontario airport


Ontario California International Airport has agreed to a new ad program for security trays. The campaign by Organa Brands, one of the largest cannabis companies, alerts travelers about California’s recreational marijuana law with fine print not to take pot across state lines.

Every now and then, the culture experiences a watershed, a moment when we look up and say, wow, things really have changed.

I know you think I am talking about sexual harassment, but I’m not. It’s far too early to say whether the torrent of revelations about sexually predatory men will shame them (and future generations) into changing how they behave.

I am talking about cannabis.

On New Year’s Day 2018, California enters a new era for legalization, which may hasten the end of decades of prohibition that have propelled a black market, ruined countless lives and obstructed research into what may be one of humanity’s most helpful therapeutic substances.

How do I know this moment of transformation is upon us?

Because Friday morning, I went through a Transportation Security Administration checkpoint at Ontario International Airport and saw it with my own eyes. A sticker that covered the bottom of the tray for my belongings said in huge block letters: “CANNABIS IS LEGAL.”

There was some fine print near the bottom: “Traveling with it is not. Leave it in California.”

And beneath that admonition, there were five corporate logos, all belonging to Organa Brands, the 7-year-old cannabis company that came up with this unusual campaign.

“I’m still pinching myself,” said Organa Brands co-founder Jeremy Heidl.

An airport security tray has a public service announcement from cannabis manufacturer Organa Brands. Starting Jan. 1, the recreational use of marijuana by those 21 and older will be legal in California. (Robin Abcarian / Los Angeles Times)

Easy to see why. The TSA is a federal agency and the government remains hostile to marijuana. The Drug Enforcement Administration considers it as dangerous as cocaine, with no acceptable medical usage. (Never mind that this is contradicted by — well — reality.)

However, while the TSA draws the line at political ads, it does not regulate advertising messages that appear in the trays that go through its X-ray machines.

Local airport authorities contract with the company that provides the bins, said TSA spokeswoman Lorie Dankers. TSA, she noted, is “not part of that financial deal.”


The “Cannabis Is Legal” campaign was the brainchild of Organa’s public relations manager Jackson Tilley, who approached Heidl after seeing a dating app advertised at Denver International Airport. “This is absolutely something we have to do,” Tilley recalled thinking.

Organa Brands is one of the largest cannabis companies in the industry. Launched in 2010, it first produced cannabis extracts before branching into vape pens with disposable cartridges. Later, the company started an edibles division. It now does business in 11 states, has 12 production facilities and sells hardware in 19 countries. Heidl, who recently moved the company to Puerto Rico, put its annual sales at “north of $100 million.”

When Tilley approached Heidl about advertising in airports, Heidl said he tried to be supportive: “I said, ‘Sure, Jackson.’ But I was thinking, ‘Never going to happen.’”

Tilley soon contacted Security Point Media, a Florida-based company created in the aftermath of Sept. 11, which has a patent on the plastic trays and the carts that move them around at airport security checkpoints.

“If you see that anywhere in the U.S., that is part of our intellectual property,” said Joe Ambrefe, president and chief executive of Security Point Media.

(I know what you’re thinking: How the heck did someone patent a system of trays and carts? That’s what the TSA thought, too, but a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge ruled against the TSA last year when it tried to challenge the patent as “obvious” and therefore invalid. According to the website Law360, the judge said the TSA’s own internal documents showed that the trays and carts led to an 80% increase in checkpoint efficiency. A patent, ruled the judge, must be protected from something that is obvious only in hindsight.)

The purpose of creating the trays and carts, however, was not only to increase airport efficiency but to create a new medium for advertising. Security Point Media has dozens of clients, as varied as Marriott and Organa. But I digress.


The first airport to agree to the cannabis campaign was Sacramento International.

But shortly before the trays were to land, officials got cold feet and pulled out. That may have been for the best. The message that Sacramento airport officials had approved was “Cannabis is illegal to carry across state lines.”

“That doesn’t send the right message,” said Organa Brand’s Heidl. “And we could look bad saying ‘cannabis is illegal.’ We are working hard to normalize it and do good. We felt like this was a responsible campaign.”

On Thursday, I bought a one-way plane ticket from Ontario to Oakland just to get a close-up view. When I passed through the security checkpoint Friday morning, I have to admit, I started chuckling when I came upon the trays.

Three TSA agents who ushered me through the line were less than enthusiastic. They said they were perplexed, even taken aback.

Passengers, however, were either mildly amused or blasé.

The only travelers I found who had a nuanced view of the ads were Karen and Russ Silhanek, a married couple from Rancho Cucamonga who were on their way to Las Vegas.

Russ Silhanek, 59, who is retired due to a disability, uses cannabis medically for pain and was a bit put off by the fine-print warning not to take pot across state lines. His checked luggage contained cannabis.

“This is like telling people, ‘You can’t take your medicine with you,’” Silhanek said.

My understanding is that if you decide to discard your cannabis while in the TSA line, you can toss it in the same receptacle where your verboten Evian bottles go.

However, said Dankers, “If TSA officers come across marijuana during their regular screening duties, in checked or carry-on bags, they will notify local law enforcement, who determine what happens next.”

My guess is that if a passenger is carrying cannabis for personal use, local law enforcement will respond with a big fat yawn.

Because, as you know, in California, cannabis is legal. I’ve seen the airport bins to prove it.

What Cannabis Strain Has the Most THC, According to Lab Data?

Three Ex-Cops Smoke Marijuana On Camera

Three men who identify themselves as former police officers smoke marijuana and get high on camera in a new video released in time for “420,” the annual marijuana holiday.

All of the men say that they had previously smoked weed, but not for decades. And while none recalled arresting anyone for a marijuana crime during their law enforcement career, one did remember seizing “a lot of pot” from people.

According to Cut Video, the same company that brought the Internet three grandmas who smoke pot for the first time ever, the footage was shot in Washington state, where recreational marijuana was legalized in 2012.

As the effects of the marijuana begin to sink in, the former law enforcement officers are asked to participate in a field sobriety test, play Cards Against Humanity and chat openly about the futility of prohibition.

“I think it should be legal, I think it should be more widely available for medical reasons,” one of the men says. “It’s like the last piece of prohibition.”

When asked by the filmmakers if the ex-cops thought marijuana to be a gateway drug, one of the men answered that he believed it could be, while another debunked his colleague’s answer.

“If you look at it, everyone who is a heroin addict started off drinking milk,” the ex-cop says. “I mean that’s the argument about marijuana and I’m not sure that’s true.”

Later, he adds, “Also, it costs more to put somebody in prison [for drugs] — not jail, but prison — than it costs to send them to Harvard.”

One of the men argues that a good reason to legalize marijuana is that it takes the guesswork out of the product a person is buying.

“I mean some of the stuff you can get on the street now, you don’t know what is going to happen to you,” the man says. “[With legalization], you’ve got a quality product and you know what it is, where it came from and what it’s going to do to you.”

Marijuana enthusiasts have a lot to celebrate this 4/20. Attitudes are changing rapidly on marijuana policy in the U.S. Several recent polls show that a majority of Americans across party lines continue to support legalization nationally.

Recreational marijuana is now legal in four states and the District of Columbia. Twenty-three states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, and 19 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use.

Criminal marijuana charges have dramatically dropped in states that have ended prohibitions of the substance.

While marijuana remains banned at the federal level, a growing number of lawmakers are seeking broad reforms to federal policy surrounding the plant. They continue to introduce legislation that could significantly roll back drug war policies, signaling that the biggest 420 celebration is still to come.

Read more about the history of “Weed Day” here and have a happy and safe 420!


By Matt Ferner

Article credit


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